Top-up fees:a breach of contract?

August 9, 1996

Universities are seeking legal advice about the implications of a rapid implementation of top-up fees.

The issue is officially on hold until after the next Budget, following which the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals will decide whether or not to implement the levy deferred earlier this year.

Fees are expected to be introduced at the London School of Economics and are being discussed, informally at least, in a number of institutions as they wrestle with cuts imposed following the 1995 Budget.

The CVCP, acting on behalf of its members, has sought legal advice on a number of issues. Their questions reflect concern that a rapid introduction of fees could place institutions in legal jeopardy in relation to applicants or those already given a place.

They have asked whether an applicant already in the middle of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service process would be allowed to substitute alternative choices of institution if fees were introduced. They are also concerned about students with deferred entry who may have been offered, and accepted, a place before there was any indication of fees being introduced.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of the UCAS, has written to the CVCP expressing concern about both issues.

The CVCP has also asked if the moment when a student accepts the offer of a place is the point at which an enforceable contract arises; what steps institutions should take in their literature and offer letters to ensure that applicants are aware of the terms of the contract; and what steps they should take to ensure that UCAS literature makes it clear that anyone accepting a place is bound by a contract and explains the terms of the contract.

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